Bus cuts confusion – yes, no, maybe

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Amber Rudd speaks out loud and clear in her ad campaign but Pat Hughes, operations manager of Rye Community Transport, will not even talk to Rye News

With days to go before the end of county council consultations on proposed bus cuts, uncertainty still surrounds the future of Rye’s 326 town service.  The 326 is hit much harder than similar town services in Bexhill and Hastings, with Rye’s six-day-a-week service cut to two.

Local MP Amber Rudd, who won the Hastings and Rye seat in 2010 from Labour, faces re-election next May soon after the planned cuts are due to start in March and she has been advertising her opposition to the cuts. Rother District Council elections take place next May too and many “Save our bus” meetings have been held in villages hit hardest by the cuts.

Other places with hourly bus services similar to Rye’s 326 have learnt that they face services being cut to every two hours, but will still have services every day. Rye would keep an hourly service, but only on two days a week – Tuesday and Friday – under the East Sussex County Council plans. Rye Community Transport (RCT), which provides most, but not all, of the 326 services, has said it will go it alone and manage without any subsidies. As a very small company, unlike Stagecoach and First, any change will be much harder to absorb as running costs will be spread over fewer journeys – and jobs might be at risk.

Of course, the county council could decide to rethink: to cut the service to a two hourly one in line with other similar services, or, because of the elections, not make any cuts at all. Or carry on with the proposed cuts. In each case some money will still be available to subsidise existing services, but RCT seems to be rejecting that help and saying that it will raise any funds it needs – and might come to the town council cap in hand, or hope that its fundraising “200” Club can raise enough extra money.

Some 326 trips go to Broad Oak and some to the Memorial Hospital (and Stagecoach runs some journeys), so the impact on RCT is hard to calculate – but it could be a cut of two thirds. If the county decided to reduce the service to a two-hourly one on a six-day-a-week basis, the cut would be around half. If no cuts are made at all, RCT appears to be saying that it will give up the existing subsidy even if it is still available.

Pat Hughes, RCT operations manager, refused to answer any questions from Rye News, and said Rye News would get no response from her until mid-October as she had other more important priorities and added that no one else could speak for RCT.

Sarah Owen, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in next year’s General Election, has met Stagecoach’s regional managing director Philip Norwell, who said: “I will keep doing what I can to make the county council think again about scrapping the subsidy.” However RCT, as a very small organisation, will be less able than Stagecoach to manage the changes.

The consultation ends on September 28.